AuthorHammerson Peters

HomeArticles Posted by Hammerson Peters

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 18: The Turning Point

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 18: The Turning Point

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 18 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

The Lagina brothers and Dave Blankenship stand by as Irving Equipment Ltd. and ROC Equipment deliver 8-foot-wide caissons, an oscillator, and a crane to Oak Island. The trio meets with Vanessa Lucido, Jared Busby and Danny Smith, who inform them that they have brought 210 feet of caisson to Oak Island, and will be able to 202-foot-deep shafts.

While ROC and Irving set up their equipment in the Money Pit area, Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, Steve Guptill, and Dr. Ian Spooner resume their excavations at the Eye of the Swamp. Dr. Spooner, who has been examining the geological makeup of the dig site with a trowel, shows Rick a sample of material he extracted from beneath one of the boulders uncovered in Season 7, Episode 16, and sites it as proof that the boulders constitute relatively recent additions to the swamp. While the dig resumes, Spooner informs Rick that the vibracore samples of the Eye of the Swamp which he and his graduate students extracted in Season 7, Episode 9 contained high concentrations of mercury and lead near their bottoms, which he takes as an indication of human activity. In a later interview, Rick Lagina remarks that the presence of mercury in the swamp evokes Petter Amundsen’s theory that Francis Bacon is the man behind the Oak Island mystery, and that the lost manuscripts of William Shakespeare, written in Bacon’s hand and preserved in mercury, lie buried on Oak Island. Although the show fails to mention it, Spooner’s disclosure also brings to mind the lump of scrap lead which Gray Drayton discovered in Season 7, Episode 16, on the beach of Oak Island’s Lot 18, which Dr. Chris McFarlane, in the previous episode, revealed contains a significant quantity of mercury.

The next day, the Oak Island team meets at the swamp with archaeologist Aaron Taylor, a colleague of Dr. Spooner’s who teaches archaeology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. Taylor examines some of the stones in the swamp and opines that they were not deposited by glaciers. “In archaeology,” he says, “we have an expression: ‘when in doubt, excavate’”. He then suggests that the crew subject a section of the swamp’s stone formations to a formal archaeological excavation. When pressed by Marty Lagina, he admits that he believes the stones were placed by man.

Following Aaron Taylor’s preliminary analysis, Dr. Spooner proffers his own theory that the Eye of the Swamp constitutes the remains of a 300-year-old clay mine, considering the significant quantities of blue clay which Jack Begley discovered at the site in Season 7, Episode 16. Taylor concurs with his theory and elaborates on it by suggesting that, if the Eye of the Swamp is indeed the site of a clay mine, the Paved Wharf might have been constructed as a roadway by which clay could be transported from the mine to the beach, where it could be loaded onto ships.

That evening, the Fellowship of the Dig congregates in the Mug & Anchor Pub in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. There, the treasure hunters discuss Ian Spooner and Aaron Taylor’s theory that the Eye of the Swamp is the site of an old blue clay mine. Rick Lagina concludes the meeting with the toast: “To the swamp!”, to which Marty Lagina, who has made no secret of his aversion to the swamp, refuses to raise his glass.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Steve Guptill meet with Vanessa Lucido and Mike Jardine at the Money Pit area. The narrator informs us that the team plans to sink a caisson at a site dubbed ‘OC1’. While the oscillator is moved into position, Lucido remarks that this custom-built piece of machinery weighs 110,000 pounds- nearly double the weight of the oscillator used in prior seasons, which weighed 64,000 pounds.

Later that day, Rick Lagina, Jack Begley, Gary Drayton, and Billy Gerhardt excavate the edges of the Paved Wharf in the hopes of better determining the extent of the structure. The treasure hunters observe a rapid influx of water into one of the trenches they dig and speculate as to the water’s sources, of which there appear to be two. Jack notes that some of the water appears to be issuing from a cluster of rocks, which he suggests might be part of the Paved Area. “It’s very simple,” says Rick in a later interview. “If you have a pile of rocks, water will flow through, certainly. Was it a way to conduct water from one area to another? It’s possible. It’d be great if it were a French drain [Season 4, Episode 13] or part of the flood tunnel system, but as of yet, we have not been able to ascertain its purpose.” The treasure hunters are soon joined by Craig Tester, who observes that some of the water appears to be flowing into the trench from the direction of the beach, and suggests that they ought to try to take samples of each apparent water source in order to determine whether they are fresh or salty. Billy extracts some of the water with the bucket of his excavator, the runoff from which Rick collects in a bottle and tastes. Rick declares that the water tastes brackish- an indication that one of the water sources might be Smith’s Cove.

The next day, Charles Barkhouse, Doug Crowell, and Laird Niven meet with GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston at Oak Island’s Lot 25, where Samuel Ball’s home once stood. The narrator informs us that, although the foundation of Ball’s cabin is a protected heritage site, and that treasure hunters are precluded from excavating within 200 feet of the ruins, Laird Niven has secured a special permit to allow Watson and Johnston to conduct a GPR scan of the area.


As the GPR experts prepare to carry out their scan, Rick Lagina shows Ian Spooner the recently-dug trench in the Oak Island swamp which appears to be fed by multiple sources of water. Rick and Dr. Spooner watch as Billy Gerhardt drains the trench, which is now full of water, with his backhoe.

Back on Lot 25, Steve Watson and Don Johnston discover what appear to be underground wall near the Ball foundations with their GPR scanner. Shortly thereafter, they come across another anomaly which appears to lie 1.5 feet below the surface. When the GPR experts complete their survey, Laird Niven states that he thinks they now have sufficient data to apply for an excavation permit from the Nova Scotian government.

Later, Rick Lagina, Dan Henskee, and Dave Blankenship drive to the Money Pit area, where they find the rest of the crew in attendance. The treasure hunters stand by while Dave Blankenship and Dan Hensee start up the oscillator which is now in place, initiating the sinking of the massive caisson dubbed ‘OC1’.



The Clay Mine Theory

In this episode, Dr. Ian Spooner put forth the theory that the Eye of the Swamp might constitute the remains of a 300-year-old clay mine, considering the significant quantities of blue clay which Jack Begley discovered at the site in Season 7, Episode 16. His colleague, Aaron Taylor, who teaches archaeology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, concurred with his assessment.

Dr. Spooner is not the first to hypothesize that Oak Island was once the site of a clay mine. Back in Season 3, Episode 6, miner John O’Brien outlined his own theory that pre-Conquista Mayans discovered palygorskite clay on Oak Island in around 800 A.D. Palygorskite is a rare type of clay arguably most famous for being a key constituent of Maya blue, a bright blue pigment used by members of the Maya civilization. Essentially a mixture of palygorskite and indigo dye, Maya blue was employed as a colorant in ceramics, murals, sculptures, and illuminated codices, and was used to paint sacrificial human victims during Mayan rituals. Mysteriously, palygorkite clay is not known to exist in any substantial natural deposits in Mesoamerica. John O’Brien believes that the “blue clay” discovered at depth on Oak Island over the years is, in fact, a rare form of naturally blue palygorskite clay. He maintains that this substance, having a natural blue pigmentation, would have been especially valuable to the Maya. O’Brien contents that Maya miners sank shafts on and dug tunnels beneath Oak Island throughout the Middle Ages in search of this material. He also believes that, during the Conquista of Hernan Cortes, members of the dying Aztec Empire secreted their most valuable treasures out of Mexico and entombed them on Oak Island, in the old Mayan mine shafts.


Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article and would like to help support this website, please check out our online bookshop:

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15.

The Chipewyans of Lake Athabasca

On the morning of February 20th, the Assiniboine broke camp and, accompanied by Henry and his companions, set out for Fort de la Corne. They arrived at the fort on the evening of February 28th, having stopped at another Assiniboine village in the middle of their journey and convinced its inhabitants to similarly pay a visit to the French-turned-English fur trading fort. There, Great Road’s warriors exchanged dried meat and furs for European trinkets.

The Assiniboine spent four days at the fort, whereupon they parted amicably with Henry and the other traders, apparently satisfied with their reception. Henry himself left the fort on March 22nd and returned to Amisk Lake. There, Henry and the fort’s occupants spent the next two months fishing and hunting fowl. On May 21st, Alexander Henry, Joseph Frobisher, and forty French-Canadian voyageurs set out for the northerly Churchill River, which empties into Hudson Bay. They reached their destination with little difficulty and met up with Thomas Frobisher, who had made the same journey earlier. Together, the party travelled up the Churchill River, hoping to meet with a band of Chipewyan Indians who had travelled all the way from Lake Athabasca (which Henry called “Lake Arabuthcow”), with whom Thomas Frobisher had scheduled a rendezvous.

The Europeans met with the natives upriver as prearranged. After exchanging gifts, the traders asked the Chipewyans to accompany them to Amisk Lake. The Indians acquiesced, and the party made the return journey without incident, accompanied by their new native friends. At Frobisher-Henry Fort, the Chipewyans traded furs for rum, diluted at their own request, and for guns, ammunition, blankets, hatchets, and other European goods. Throughout the course of their transactions, the natives told the Europeans about Peace River Country, the Pacific Ocean west of the Rocky Mountains, and of the Slave River which empties into Great Slave Lake.

Once their business was concluded, the Chipewyans set out on their return journey to Lake Athabasca, accompanied by Thomas Frobisher. Alexander Henry, on the other hand, decided to return to the Grand Portage on the western shores of Lake Superior. All throughout the journey, Henry and his travelling companions met with Indians who informed them that strange white men from the southeast had killed all the Englishmen in Montreal and Quebec, and would soon occupy the Great Lakes. Henry suspected, and later learned definitively, that these were exaggerated tidings of the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

The Beaver Club

Although Alexander Henry the Elder’s memoirs end with his return to the Grand Portage, this point does not mark the end of his adventures. In the fall of 1776, Henry sailed to England, where he visited the London headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company and proposed that the great British fur trading syndicate make a practice of hiring the French-Canadians voyageurs of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. That accomplished, he proceeded to Versailles, France, where he gained audience with the French queen, Marie Antoinette.

Alexander Henry returned to British North America in the spring of 1777 and thrust himself back into the fur trade, conducting most of his business on the Great Lakes. He returned to England twice more, in 1778 and 1780, before finally settling in Montreal, where he established himself as a merchant. Throughout the 1780s, he had five children with a wealthy English widow named Julia Kittson, whom he eventually married in the summer of 1785.

In February of that year, Alexander Henry and eighteen fellow English fur traders who had cut their teeth in the Great Lakes and the Northwest beyond- including the Frobisher brothers, Peter Pond, and other friends Henry had made during his travels; many of them co-founders of the North West Company, a Montreal-based fur trading enterprise which would serve as rival to the Hudson’s Bay Company throughout the late 18th and early 19th Centuries- established a gentleman’s club which they called the ‘Beaver Club’. These nouveau riche gentlemen frontiersmen established a tradition of meeting at one another’s homes,

or hotels or taverns in Montreal, for very peculiar dinners. Dressed in their finest clothes, club members would initiate the evening’s festivities by passing around a peace pipe in the Indian style, as every one of them had done around countless campfires during their adventures in the Canadian wilds. When the ritual was complete, the frontiersmen would sit down to a feast of country fare, the menu including courses such as pemmican, venison, buffalo tongue, whitefish, and wild rice, all prepared in European style and served with the finest crystal and silverware. When the meal was finished, the participants would spend the rest of the night drinking, smoking, dancing, singing old voyageur songs, and regaling each other with tales of their exploits and adventures during their fur trading days.

Prompted by financial difficulties, Alexander Henry returned to the fur trade in the spring of 1786 and remained in the business until 1790. In the 1790s, Henry played a role in organizing North West Company fur shipments to Qing China.

Alexander Henry spent the rest of his days in Montreal, enjoying a place in high society and remaining an active and enthusiastic member of the Beaver Club. He spent his time engaging in various business ventures, serving as a captain in the Canadian militia, and working as a justice of the peace. In a private letter to a friend, penned in 1809, he lamented the changing spirit of the Canadian fur trade, writing, “There is only us four old friends alive, all the new North westards are a parcel of Boys and upstarts, who were not born in our time, and supposes they know much more of the Indian trade than any before him.”

On April 4th, 1824, 85-year-old Alexander Henry the Elder passed away in his home in Montreal, leaving behind five children, an entertaining and historically invaluable memoir, and a place in history as one of the first “pedlars”, or English coureur des bois, to resume the Great Lakes and Northwestern fur trade in the wake of the British conquest of New France.

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14.

Across the Prairies

On January 1, 1776, Alexander Henry decided to visit the westerly prairies. Accompanied by two French-Canadians, Henry snowshoed to Cumberland House, struggling through deep snow and suffering bitterly cold temperatures. In addition to his two employees, Henry was accompanied on this first leg of the journey by Joseph Frobisher, whom, he wrote in gratitude, “is certainly the first man that ever went the same distance in such a climate and upon snowshoes to convey a friend.”

Henry and his men snowshoed across Cumberland Lake and continued up the Saskatchewan River. The temperature was so cold that the explorers were obliged to sleep huddled together on the same buffalo robe. When the travellers ran out of provisions, Henry produced a bar of chocolate that he had saved for such an occasion. The men gradually consumed the confection by dissolving a square at a time onto a pot of hot water and drinking the liquid. They subsisted on this weak hot chocolate for several days, nearly succumbing to starvation, when they stumbled upon the bones of an elk recently devoured by wolves. “Having instantly gathered them,” Henry wrote, “we encamped, and filling our kettle, prepared ourselves a meal of strong and excellent soup. The greater part of the night was passed in boiling and regaling on our booty, and early in the morning we felt ourselves strong enough to proceed.”

On January 25th, Henry and his men reached the edge of the Canadian prairies. There, they found the whole frozen carcass of a red deer, which appeared to have become stuck in the river ice at the onset of winter. The adventurers removed as much meat from the carcass as they could and enjoyed their first good meal since Cumberland House.

On the morning of January 27th, Henry and his men came upon a pair of day-old snowshoe tracks. They followed the tracks and arrived at a fur trading post called Fort des Prairies, also known as Fort de la Corne, that evening. There, the fort’s occupants treated Henry and his employees to a bountiful feast of buffalo bull tongues.

A band of Assiniboine Indians were also visiting Fort de la Corne at the time. Hoping to more thoroughly experience the prairies, and perhaps see the Rocky Mountains beyond, Henry asked the Assiniboine if he might accompany them to their village. The natives agreed, and thus Henry, along with his two French-Canadian employees and two English fur traders named Patterson and Holmes, set out with their new native companions in early February.

The Europeans followed the Indians up to a high plateau where trees were sparse. They struggled to keep up with the natives, who wore narrower snowshoes than them, and who had loaded much of their supplies onto dog-drawn travois. They stopped and made camp at sunset. “The tent in which I slept,” Henry wrote, “contained fourteen persons, each of whom lay with his feet to the fire, which was in the middle; but the night was so cold that even this precaution, with the assistance of our buffalo robes, was insufficient to keep us warm. Our supper was made on the tongues of the wild ox, or buffalo, boiled in my kettle, which was the only one in the camp.”

The following day, Henry and his companions followed the Indians across the open prairie. When a snow storm threatened to descend upon them, they took shelter in a small isolated copse of trees and shrubs, the trunks of the largest of which did not exceed a man’s wrist in diameter.

The party resumed their journey the next day, finally making camp on the shores of a frozen lake. There, they were approached by scouts sent by Great Road, the head chief of the Assiniboine, who had had sent them to search for the band, worried that something might have befallen the travellers on their journey to the east. The scouts were pleased to find Henry and his companions among the Assiniboine, telling them that their chief would be interested in meeting them.

The travellers and the scouts spent the next few days encamped beside the lake, where they waited out a storm that nearly buried their teepees in snow. At the height of the blizzard, the wooded oasis was invaded by a herd of buffalo which might have trampled the camp had it not been for the barking of the Indian dogs and the shooting of the Assiniboine hunters, the latter killing any animal which ventured too close to their teepees with bows and arrows. “Whatever were the terrors which filled the wood,” Henry wrote, “[the buffalo] had no other escape from the terrors of the storm.”

When the storm finally abated, the scouts set out for the camp of Great Road bearing gifts of tobacco and vermillion with which the Europeans had supplied them. The rest of the travellers followed more slowly, burdened by their equipment and provisions.

The Assiniboine Camp

The travellers reached the camp of Great Road on the morning of February 11th, 1776. Henry and his men were greeted by an honour guard, whose members ushered them into a tent which had been set aside for their use. There, Assiniboine women presented them with warm water for washing. “The refreshment was exceedingly acceptable,” Henry wrote, “for on our march we had become so dirty that our complexions were not very distinguishable from those of the Indians themselves.”

Following their ablutions, the Europeans were taken to Great Road’s tent. Henry described the great Assiniboine chief as standing about 5’10’’ and having a darker complexion than most of his fellow tribesmen. Great Road’s most peculiar physical attribute was his hair, which he wore in long, wild, matted dreadlocks. Henry learned that the chief never cut or groomed in accordance with a peculiar Samson-esque superstition he held; Great Road believed that his hair was the source of his fortune and power.

When the guests entered his teepee, the head chief shook each of their hands and invited them to sit on bearskins which had been spread on the ground. Great Road then produced a pipe, which everyone in attendance proceeded to smoke. The chief then made a long and eloquent speech, following which every Indian in the teepee began to weep. Henry was told later that the Indians practiced this custom in honour of their deceased relatives, memories of whom invariably surfaced at the commencement of feasts and ceremonies. The weeping continued for ten minutes, and when it ended, the Indians feasted their guests on boiled buffalo tongue. Henry and his companions were invited to a second feast later that night, in which all the Assiniboine men, due to the warmth of the fire, stripped entirely naked, to some of the white men’s amusement.

The following day, after Henry and his companions toured the village, Great Road delivered another speech in which he informed the Europeans that he was at their service, and that he planned to visit Fort de la Corne at the earliest opportunity. He then gave his guests a gift of beaver pelts and wolf furs, prompting the travellers to present him with more tobacco and vermillion.

Henry and his companions spent five more days in the camp of the Assiniboine. Although they had liberty to go about the camp as they pleased, they were guarded at all times by six warriors who savagely thrashed anyone who came too close to them.

During their say, the Assiniboine invited the Europeans to accompany them on a buffalo hunt. Henry described how the Assiniboine had built a fence, or buffalo pound, about five miles from the camp many years ago. The v-shaped enclosure consisted of birch stakes through which smaller branches were woven. Once the pound was sufficiently repaired, a handful of Assiniboine hunters donned buffalo robes with horns. “Their faces were covered,” Henry wrote, “and their gestures so closely resembled those of the animals themselves that had I not been in the secret I should have been as much deceived as the oxen.”

These special hunters spent most of the evening luring the buffalo towards the pound, successfully convincing their quarry that they were bison calves by mimicking their sounds and behavior. Slowly but steadily, the hunters lured the buffalo herd into the enclosure, finally slipping out of the pound through a hidden gate at its end. The rest of the warriors, meanwhile, concealed themselves behind the pound walls. On a prearranged signal, the hunters emerged from their hiding places and began to shower the buffalo with arrows. Whenever any of the animals attempted to escape the pound, a hunter would wave a buffalo robe in its face, prompting the creature to scramble backwards. The morning following the slaughter, the carcasses were processed, the tongues, hearts, and shoulders being set aside for feasts and the remainder dried for future use, and for sale at Fort de la Corne. The Assiniboine spent the rest of the day and much of the night feasting, dancing, singing, and making music.

“The [musical] instruments,” Henry wrote, “consisted principally in a sort of tambourine, and a gourd filled with stones, which several persons accompanied by shaking two bones together; and others with bunches of deer hoofs, fastened to the end of a stick. Another instrument was one that was no more than a piece of wood of three feet with notches cut on its edge. The performer drew a stick backward and forward along the notches, keeping time. The women sang; and the sweetness of their voices exceeded whatever I had heard before.”

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 16.

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 13.

Journey to the Northwest

In the summer of 1775, Alexander Henry decided to take up trading once again. He purchased 3,000 pounds sterling-worth of provisions, bought four large canoes and twelves smaller ones, and hired a crew of 51 French-Canadian voyageurs. On June 10, he and his men left Sault Ste. Marie for the northwestern shores of Lake Superior. They passed a large hollow rock called Tete de la Loutre, or the “Otter’s Head”, and camped at the mouth of the Pijitic River, known today as the “Pic River”. They visited Pic Island and paddled past the Pays Plat, or “Flat Land”- a flat wooded shore between two mountains where the French had once operated a trading post.

Finally, the voyageurs reached the so-called Grand Portage, located on the western end of Lake Superior southwest of the present-day city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. There, he and his men hauled their canoes and provisions overland to what Henry called the River aux Groseilles, or “Gooseberry River” (known today as the Pigeon River), the lower 21 miles of which were unnavigable due to rapids and waterfalls. They proceeded up the Pigeon River, portaged around what are known today as the “High Falls”, and entered what Henry called the Hauteur de Terre, or “Land’s Height”- a wooded, lake-ridden highland. There, they followed a chain of lakes and rivers to Saganaga Lake, once the site of an Ojibwe village, and further northwest to what is known today as Rainy Lake, which Henry called “Lake a la Pluie”. They continued up the Rainy River to the Lake of the Woods. There, Henry and his men found an Indian village of several hundred souls. The village chiefs welcomed the traders cordially with gifts and speeches. In return, Henry gave the natives a present consisting of a sixty-pound keg of gunpowder, eighty pound bags of shot and additional gunpowder, and a keg of rum. After purchasing wild rice from the Indians, Henry and his crew paddled across the Lake of the Woods and portaged to the Winnipeg River.

The voyageurs continued down the Winnipeg River, portaging around its more turbulent sections. They headed down a scenic branch of the river called the Pinawa Channel and encamped at the head of a portage trail called the Carrying-Place of the Lost Child. “Here,” Henry wrote, is a chasm in the rock, nowhere more than two yards in breadth, but of great and immeasurable depth. The Indians relate that many ages past a child fell into this chasm, from the bottom of which it is still heard at times to cry.”

At the entrance to Lake Winnipeg, the voyageurs came upon a village of Cree Indians, whom Henry called “Christinaux”. Henry wrote that the Cree were very different in appearance and custom from the Ojibwa, and remarked that a few Cree men lent some of their wives, of which they had several, to some of his voyageurs, asking that they return them in a year’s time.

On August 18th, 1775, Henry and his men left the Cree camp and paddled up the lake’s eastern shore. They soon met and were joined by Peter Pond, a gruff soldier, adventurer, and fur trader famous for his violent temper. The following day, they were beset by a storm which killed four men and destroyed one canoe.

On August 21st, the voyageurs paddled across Lake Winnipeg to its southern shore. There, several weeks later, they encountered brothers Joseph and Thomas Frobisher- fur traders and distant relatives of the famous Elizabethan explorer Sir Martin Frobisher.

In early autumn, the explorers were in desperate need of food. Spurred by the fear of starvation, they proceeded up the Saskatchewan River, which Henry called the “River de Bourbon, Pasquayah, or Sascatchiwaine”. They tracked and portaged up and around the Grand Rapids and entered Cedar Lake. They crossed the lake and continued up the Saskatchewan River, in which they caught several large sturgeon and killed a huge number of wild fowl.

Eighty leagues upriver from the ruins of an old French fur trading post called Fort Bourbon, Henry and his men came to another old trading post called Fort Paskoya, around which revolved a Cree village. There, the village chief- a tall, chubby, sly-looking warrior named Chatique, or “Pelican”- invited the Europeans to a council in his teepee. Pelican informed the travellers that he would allow them to continue up the Saskatchewan River only if they gave him a present consisting of three casks of gunpowder, four bags of shot, two bales of tobacco, three kegs of rum, and some knives. Left with little alternative, the voyageurs complied with the demand and continued up the river. Shortly after their departure, they were overtaken by Chief Pelican himself, who had pursued them alone in a canoe. The daring chief boarded one of their canoes with a spear in his hand and demanded another keg of rum. Knowing there could be serious consequences if they killed the chief, the voyageurs granted Pelican’s request and parted ways with him.

On October 26th, the adventurers reached Cumberland House- a Hudson’s Bay Company fort built the year prior on the shores of Cumberland Lake by English explorer Samuel Hearne. Although the great explorer himself was absent at the time, the fort was occupied by Highlanders from the Orkney Islands, who treated Henry and his men with hospitality. There, Henry’s party fractured into several different groups, each of which headed to a separate fort in the region. Henry and the Frobisher brothers, along with forty of their employees, remained together and decided to make for what is known today as Amisk Lake, which Henry called “Beaver Lake, or Lake aux Castors”.

Henry and company paddled their canoes across Cumberland Lake, which Henry called “Sturgeon Lake”, and up the Sturgeon-Weir River, which Henry called the “River Maligne”, or “Bad River”, battling rapids all the way. They continued to Amisk Lake just as the water began to freeze. There, the party split into three groups, two of which were tasked with ice fishing and the third of which was given the task of constructing a fort on the lake’s shore. Ten days later, the voyageurs completed the construction of what is known today as Frobisher-Henry Fort. Henry and his men spent the winter fishing and hunting on Amisk Lake, subsisting on trout and elk.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 15.

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 13

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 13

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 12.

Caribou Island

In the spring of 1769, Henry embarked on a prospecting expedition to the Island of Michipicoten, located about 37 miles southwest of the mouth of the Michipicoten River. When he failed to find any interesting minerals there, he planned to paddle south to a smaller island in the middle of Lake Superior, known as Caribou Island, which the Indians tantalizingly claimed had beaches of yellow sand. The Indians hadn’t visited the island personally, but knew about its existence from the tales passed down by their ancestors, which also contended that the island was home to enormous snakes. Unfortunately, Henry was unable to make the journey on account of poor weather and was obliged to return to the fort.

In the spring of 1771, Alexander Henry partnered up with Alexander Baxter and formed a mining company, as they had previously planned. The two Alexanders built a barge at Pointe aux Pins, a peninsula on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie, and embarked for the Island of Yellow Sand supposed by the Indians to lie south of the Island of Michipicoten, hoping that its beaches were littered with gold dust.

“After a search of two days,” Henry wrote, “we discovered the island with our glass; and on the third morning, the weather being fair, steered for it at an early hour. At two o’clock in the afternoon we disembarked upon the beach.”

Henry carried his gun onto the island, resolved to bravely fight off the giant snakes the Indians claimed inhabited its shores. As the beach he landed on did not have golden sand, however, he thought that he had little to fear, as he presumed that the snakes were guardians of the gold. Henry spent that day and the next hunting caribou in the island’s woods and managed to kill five large animals. On the third day, he and Baxter explored the rest of the island but failed to find its legendary golden shores or its giant serpentine guardians. Instead, they were hounded by a profusion of angry hawks, one of which snatched Henry’s cap from his head.

The Copper Company

On the fourth day, Henry, Baxter, and their employees sailed for Nanibojou Island. There, they discovered veins of silver-tinged copper and lead, which they began to mine and smelt.

When they concluded their prospecting on Nanibojou Island, the mining company met up with a Russian mineralogist named Mr. Norburg and conducted another prospecting expedition, this one on the southeastern shores of Lake Superior. There, they found blue semi-transparent stones which was later found to be 60% silver by weight.

The prospectors then parted company with Mr. Norburg and headed west to Ontonogan. There, they set up a mining camp and began to extract the local copper, hoping that it might contain silver. The miners laboured throughout the winter of 1771, but abandoned the operation in the spring of 1772 when their tunnel collapsed.

In August, 1772, Henry and company established a mining camp on the northern shores of Lake Superior. There, the company employees mined copper, which was later sent to Montreal. The company dissolved in 1774 when it was determined that the mining profits did not justify the cost of the operation.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 14.

Continue Reading

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 12

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 12

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 11.

The Cannibal

Henry and his men decided to spend the following winter at Sault Ste. Marie. When it became evident that fishing was poor in the area that winter, they relocated to what is known today as Keweenaw Bay, at the southern end of Lake Superior. During their stay, they were joined by a band of Indians who were similarly fleeing from famine.

Two days after the band’s arrival, a filthy and unkempt adolescent emitting a terrible odour wandered out of the woods. The native told Henry and his crew that his family had been starving, and that he alone had the strength to leave their camp in search of food. “His arrival struck our camp with horror and uneasiness,” Henry wrote, “and it was not long before the Indians came to me, saying, that they suspected he had been eating human flesh, and even that he had killed and devoured the family which he pretended to have left behind.”

Although the teenager denied the charges when questioned, the Indians encamped nearby decided to investigate and followed his trail back to his family’s camp. “The next day,” Henry wrote, “they returned, bringing with them a human hand and skull. The hand had been left roasting before a fire, while the intestines, taken out of the body from which it was cut, hung fresh on a neighboring tree.”

When presented with this evidence, the teenager confessed that he did, indeed, cannibalize his family, which constituted his uncle and aunt and four of their children. Following a failed hunting expedition, his uncle had fallen into depression and asked his wife to kill him. Although the wife failed to comply, the teenager and his eldest cousin decided to carry out the deed instead. The boys murdered their respective father and uncle and ate his body. Shortly thereafter, they did the same to the two youngest children. As the dead man’s widow was too feeble to travel, the boys left her behind and headed into the forest towards Lake Superior. Along the way, the teenager killed his elder cousin and cannibalized him. The body parts that the Indians found by the fire constituted his last remains.

“The Indians entertain an opinion,” Henry wrote, “that the man who has once made human flesh his food will never afterward be satisfied with any other. It is probable that we saw things in some measure through the medium of our prejudices; but I confess that this distressing object appeared to verify the doctrine. He ate with relish nothing that was given him; but, indifferent to the food prepared, fixed his eyes continually on the children which were in the Indian lodge, and frequently exclaimed, ‘How fat they are!’” Fearful that he would attempt to cannibalize their children, the Indians executed the teenager by splitting his head with an axe when his attention was distracted.

The Bay of Michipicoten

Henry and his crew spent the winter of 1766/67 at the mouth of the Michipicoten River on the northeastern shores of Lake Superior. In his memoir, Henry wrote about a cluster of tiny volcanic islands on the eastern shores of the Bay of Michipicoten, off a point known today as Cape Gargantua. The Indians told Henry that one of their legendary ancestors, Nanibojou (sometimes spelled “Nanabozho” today)- which name Henry interpreted as meaning “Great Hare”- was buried beneath one of these islands, and that it was their practice to leave sacrifices like tobacco and kettles to him whenever they passed his resting place. According to an old Ojibwa tradition which Henry was told by his Indian friends, Nanibojou, in ancient times, learned of an impending Great Flood. He built a giant raft on which he housed himself, his family, and all the animals of the world. The Flood came, and Nanibojou and company floated on their raft for many moons. Eventually, Nanibojou created the earth and the human race. Later, when the animals conspired against the human race, Nanijobou took away their ability to speak.

Henry and his men took up residence in an old abandoned French trading post on the shores of Michipicoten Bay and began trading with the natives, who were the impoverished Gens de Terre whom Henry had first met at Sault Ste. Marie back in the spring of 1672. At their request, Henry decided to give these natives goods on credit, knowing that they had a reputation for honesty.

In April, 1767, Henry decided to make maple syrup. To do this, he built a sugar shack, digging through the snow in order to lay its foundation. “The house was seven feet high,” Henry wrote, “but yet was lower than the snow.” Shortly after he returned from this excursion, the Gens de Terre returned from their winter hunting grounds bearing furs for him. Of the two thousands furs-worth of goods he had lent the Indians on credit, only thirty remained unpaid by a debtor who had died in the woods. His family, Henry wrote, “offered to pay the rest form among themselves; his manes, they observed, would not be able to enjoy peace, while his name remained in my books and his debts were left unsatisfied.”

Later that spring, Henry made a trip to Michilimackinac, where he met with a man named Alexander Baxter who had recently arrived from England. When Henry told the newcomer about the natural copper mines he had found throughout Lake Superior, the Englishman suggested that they partner up and form a mining company sometime in the future.

Henry decided to spend the following winter at Michipicoten Bay. In October, while preparations for the winter season were underway, he decided to make a trip to Sault Ste. Marie with three French-Canadians and a young Indian woman who had relatives at the fort. They spent the first night of their voyage on the aforementioned Island of Nanibojou and neglected to make the customary offerings to the ancient patriarch of the Ojibwa people. That night, a violent storm swept across Lake Superior, forcing Henry and his companions to spend several days on the island. The travellers managed to paddle a short distance down the coast before being forced to make camp on the shores of the mainland due to the poor weather. The storm raged on for nine days, stranding the travellers in their campsite. They quickly exhausted their rations and began to go hungry. Two of the French-Canadians plotted to kill and eat the Indian girl, and were disappointed when Henry discovered their plan and put an end to it. Fortunately, Henry shortly discovered some edible lichen on a nearby mountaintop, which the company happily boiled and ate. “It saved the life of the poor woman,” Henry wrote, “for the men who had projected to kill her would unquestionably have accomplished their purpose. One of them gave me to understand that he was not absolutely a novice in such an affair; that he had wintered in the Northwest, and had been obliged to eat human flesh.”

On the evening of the ninth day, the party resumed their journey, many of them drifting in and out of sleep from fatigue. The following morning, they encountered a party of Indians who supplied them with fish. Henry and company immediately paddled over to the shore, built a fire, and enjoyed their first hearty meal in a week.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 13.

Continue Reading

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 11

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 11

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 10.

Lake Superior and the Canadian Northwest

In the spring of 1765, Alexander Henry acquired a permit to trade for furs on the vast northwesterly Lake Superior, becoming the very first Englishman to hold such a permit. Outfitting himself at Michilimackinac, he and twelve newly-hired employees paddled their canoes up to Sault Ste. Marie, where they were joined by Jean Baptiste Cadotte, and further up the St. Marys River to Lake Superior.

The adventurers paddled west across the lake, reaching the mouth of the Ontonagon River on August 19th. Henry explored the lower reaches of this river, coming across the Bond Falls, a school of monstrous sturgeon, and an abundance of pure raw copper. Returning to Lake Superior, he continued west to a great Ojibwa village called Chagouemig, located in what is known today as the Chequamegon Inlet, which Henry described as “the metropolis of the Chippewa”. The villagers were starving and poorly clothed, the commerce on which they relied having been interrupted by Pontiac’s War, and so, at their chief’s request, Henry supplied them with goods on credit.

Henry decided to spend the winter at Chagouemig and built a cabin and trading post there for himself and his men. Throughout the season, the fur traders subsisted almost entirely on trout and whitefish, although, on one occasion following a successful bear hunt with the Indians, they were each obliged to eat about twenty pounds of bear meat in a single day in accordance with a particular Ojibwa superstition.

Henry’s trading relationship with the local Ojibwa began on a rocky start. The first visitors to his trading post threatened to steal his goods. While his employees meekly stood by, Henry seized a firearm and declared that he would shoot the first man to lay a hand on his goods. Realizing that Henry would not be bullied, the Ojibwa softened their hostile demeanor and began to peaceably exchange their furs for Henry’s goods.

“The Chippewa of Chagouemig,” Henry wrote, “are a handsome, well-made people; and much more cleanly, as well as much more regular in the government of their families, than the Chippewa of Lake Huron. The women have agreeable features and take great pains in dressing their hair, which consists in neatly dividing it on the forehead and top of the head and in plaiting and turning it up behind. The men paint as well their whole body as their face; sometimes with charcoal, and sometimes with white ocher; and appear to study how to make themselves as unlike as possible to anything human. The clothing in which I found them, both men and women, was chiefly of dressed deer-skin, European manufactures having been for some time out of their reach. In this respect, it was not long after my goods were dispersed among them before they were scarcely to be known for the same people. The women heightened the color of their cheeks, and really animated their beauty, by a liberal use of vermilion.”

On April 20th, 1766, the ice began to melt, and a number of Ojibwa warriors set out on their war path against their hereditary enemies, the Eastern Dakota Sioux. They encountered a Sioux band on May 15th and engaged their warriors in battle. During a lull in the fighting, the Ojibwa dressed and painted their fallen comrades, as was customary at that time, in preparation for their eventual scalping by the enemy. That accomplished, they retreated a short distance in order to allow the Sioux to collect the scalps of their friends and relatives. “We consider it an honour,” one Ojibwa explained to Henry, “to have the scalps of our countrymen exhibited in the villages of our enemies in testimony to our valor.” When the Ojibwa warriors advanced again, hoping to reengage the enemy, they found that the Sioux had fled without stopping to scalp their fellow tribesmen- a breach of martial etiquette by which the Ojibwa were deeply offended.

After the warriors’ return, Henry and his men loaded the pelts they had acquired into canoes and made the long journey back to Michilimackinac to trade them in.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 12.

Continue Reading

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 10

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 10

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 9.

The Voyage to Fort Niagara

On June 10, 1764, Alexander Henry and sixteen Ojibwa braves set out for Fort Niagara, stopping at several Indian villages along the way. One afternoon, while waiting out a storm on shore, Henry nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. When he saw the serpent, he retrieved his musket from his canoe and prepared to kill it. He was stopped at the last moment by his companions, who believed that the rattlesnake, specimens of which rarely appeared in that country, was one of their reincarnated ancestors. Instead of killing it, they lit their pipes and blew tobacco in its face. Apparently pleased with the odour, the snake eventually relaxed and slithered away.

Interestingly, a similar story appears in the memoirs of Jonathan Carver, a New English contemporary of Henry’s, entitled Travels Through North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768. In 1766, while traversing a portage trail between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers in the forest west of Lake Michigan, Carver came across a den of rattlesnakes. One of Carver’s travelling companions- a French-Canadian fur trader named Pinnisance- proceeded to tell the New Englander “a remarkable story concerning one of these reptiles, of which he said he was an eye-witness”.


According to Pinnisance, a Menominee Indian once tamed a rattlesnake and “treated it as a Deity; calling it his Great Father, and carrying it with him in a box wherever he went… The French gentleman was surprised, one day, to see the Indian place the box which contained his god on the ground, and opening the door give him his liberty; telling him, whilst he did it, to be sure and return by the time he himself should come back… The Indian was so confident of his creature’s obedience that he offered to lay the Frenchman a wager of two gallons of rum that at the time appointed he would come and crawl into his box.” Pinnisance took the Menominee up on his offer. At the appointed time, “the Indian set down his box and called for his great father.” Although the rattlesnake failed to make its scheduled appearance, the Indian was undeterred, and offered to double his bet with the Frenchmen if the snake failed to arrive in two days. “This was further agreed on,” Henry wrote, “when behold on the second day, about one o’clock, the snake arrived, and, of his own accord, crawled into the box, which was placed ready for him. The French gentleman vouched for the truth of this story, and from the accounts I have often received of the docility of those creatures, I see no reason to doubt his veracity.”

The party resumed their journey and paddled down Lake Huron. They were soon beset by a storm, from which the Indians prayed to their ancestor, the rattlesnake they had just encountered, to save them. They sacrificed several dogs to the rattlesnake by tying their legs together and throwing them into the lake, and considered doing the same to Henry, who was saved from that unenviable fate when the storm finally cleared.

Henry and the natives paddled into Georgian Bay and over to its eastern shore. There, they disembarked and proceeded down an Indian trail to Lake Simcoe, which Henry called “Lake aux Claies”. They crossed the lake and headed down another trail which Henry called “Toranto”- the etymological root of the name of the city of Toronto, Ontario. On June 19th, they reached the shores of Lake Ontario. There, the Indians built canoes out of elm tree bark. That accomplished, they paddled across Lake Ontario to the meeting place at Fort Niagara, where they were greeted by Sir William Johnson.

Return to Michilimackinac

Assembled at Fort Niagara were three thousand British soldiers under the command of General John Bradstreet who were preparing to relieve the defenders of Detroit, besieged as they were by Pontiac’s warriors. Upon the completion of his mission, General Bradstreet planned to send some troops to Michilimackinac, and, upon hearing Henry’s story, told the trader that he would help him recover his stolen goods. Furthermore, despite Henry’s lack of military experience, Bradstreet appointed the trader the leader of a 96-man all-Indian battalion that had agreed to help him lift the Siege of Detroit, whose members included the sixteen Ojibwa from Sault Ste. Marie with whom he had just travelled.

The troops set out on July 10th, heading up the Niagara River towards Lake Erie. Only ten of Henry’s warriors marched with him that day; the remainder promised to follow the following morning, but all but four of them deserted at the earliest opportunity. “I thought their conduct,” Henry wrote, “though dishonest, not very extraordinary; since the Indians employed in the siege of Detroit, against whom we were leading them, were at peace with their nation, and their own friends and kinsmen.”

At Lake Erie, the army constructed a number of barges, one of which they allotted to Henry and his fourteen warriors. On the night before their departure, Henry’s Indians got drunk and began shooting their muskets haphazardly in the camp, prompting General Bradstreet to seize their liquor and inform them that, if they wanted to march in his army, they would have to conduct themselves with discipline. Most of the natives subsequently left for home, leaving Henry with only a handful of braves under his command.

Bradstreet’s army proceeded along the northern shore of Lake Erie, opting to drag their barges over the Long Point Peninsula rather than maneuver them around it. When they reached the western end of the lake, the held a council and debated over whether to head to Detroit directly, or first attack a handful of Indian villages which lay along the Ohio River. The officers agreed that they ought to attack the villages first, but instead of finding hostile warriors there, they were met by emissaries bearing peace pipes. After some discussion with these ambassadors, General Bradstreet agreed to meet with the chiefs of the Ohio Indians at Detroit for the purpose of making peace with them and the other nations participating in Pontiac’s War.

The British proceeded to Detroit and arrived there on August 8th. The peace council took place as scheduled, and Pontiac’s Rebellion came to an end. Chief Pontiac himself, having failed in his crusade to eject the English from the Great Lakes, fled south to the Illinois River.

The day following the peace treaty, Henry accompanied several hundred British soldiers to Michilimackinac. They crossed the Upper Peninsula of Michigan by way of the Detroit River, and Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River beyond, failing to encounter a single Indian on the way. With the help of the soldiers, Henry reacquired some of his lost property. He then travelled with his goods to Sault Ste. Marie, where he spent the winter trading.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 11.

Continue Reading

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 9

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 9

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 8.

Ojibwa Life

Shortly after the discovery of Skull Cave, Henry was approached by Menehwehna, the head war chief of the Michilimackinac Ojibwa. Menehwehna told Henry that the Ojibwa warriors who had participated in the Siege of Detroit were on their way to the island, and would be inclined to kill any Englishmen they came across. Accordingly, the chief helped Henry disguise himself as an Indian, shaving all of his head save for a scalp lock into which feathers were placed, painting his face, clothing him in a greasy deerskin shirt, and giving him a blanket to wear around his shoulders.

Not long after, Henry accompanied Wawatam’s family on a fowl-hunting excursion on the shores of the northerly Saint Martin Bay. There, Wawatam’s daughter-in-law went into labour and fell very ill. In the hopes of curing her of her ailment, the men of the family, Henry included, went into the woods and caught a garter snake. That accomplished, Wawatam cut the snake’s head off and collected its lifeblood, which he subsequently diluted with water and fed to his ailing daughter-in-law. An hour later, the girl safely gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

In the fall, the Ojibwa of Machilimackinac fractured into a number of small bands and family units, as was customary at that time of year. Henry accompanied Wawatam’s family down Lake Michigan to the mouth of the Big Sable River, located about 150 miles from the island.

Henry and his companions, assisted by their dogs, spent that winter hunting beaver, raccoons, otter, deer, and, on two separate occasions, bear and cougar. “Had it not been for the idea of which I could not divest my mind,” Henry wrote, “that I was living among savages, and for the whispers of a lingering hope that I should one day be released from it—or if I could have forgotten that I had ever been otherwise than as I then was—I could have enjoyed as much happiness in this as in any other situation.”

Escape to Sault Ste. Marie

That spring, Henry and his adopted family returned to Michilimackinac, where other Ojibwa bands were congregated. Pontiac’s rebellion was in full swing, and members of a war party who intended to launch another assault on Fort Detroit expressed interest in eating Henry so that they might gain the courage necessary to fight the English. In order to save Henry’s life, Wawatam and his family took their English adoptee to Point St. Ignace, located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just west of the island. There, Henry fell in with a flotilla of French-Canadian fur traders who were taking the Ojibwa wife of interpreter Jean Baptiste Cadotte, in whose house Henry had previously wintered, to her home at Sault Ste. Marie. Bidding Wawatam and his family adieu, Henry accompanied his new companions to the relative safety of Sault Ste. Marie.

No sooner had Henry arrived at his new destination than a canoe of Indians from Fort Niagara paddled up to Sault Ste. Marie. The Indians were emissaries sent by Sir William Johnson, the now-de facto commander of British troops in Canada, who invited the Ojibwa to join him and many other First Nations in a great council at Fort Niagara. The Ojibwa of Sault Ste. Marie agreed to send twenty warriors to this diplomatic gathering, and Henry, who hoped to return to English civilization, received their permission to accompany them.

The Shaking Tent

Before setting out on their voyage, the Ojibwa decided to commune with a spirit they called the ‘Great Turtle’. In order to accomplish this, they erected a conical moose-skin tent and proceeded to conduct a sacred ceremony common throughout the Algonkian world known as rite of the Shaking Tent. That night, the whole band gathered by the tent and watched as the medicine man chosen to perform this ritual emerged from his wigwam half-naked. The shaman made his way over to the tent and crawled inside.

“His head was scarcely within side when the edifice,” wrote Henry, “massy as it has been described, began to shake; and the skins were no sooner let fall than the sounds of numerous voices were heard beneath them, some yelling, some barking as dogs, some howling like wolves; and in this horrible concert were mingled screams and sobs, as of despair, anguish, and the sharpest pain. Articular speech was also uttered, as if from human lips; but in a tongue unknown to the audience. After some time these confused and frightful noises were succeeded by a perfect silence; and now a voice not heard before seemed to manifest the arrival of a new character in the tent. This was a low and feeble voice, resembling the cry of a young puppy. The sound was no sooner distinguished, than all the Indians clapped their hands for joy, exclaiming that this was the Chief Spirit, the Turtle, the spirit that never lied. Other voices which they had discriminated from time to time they had previously hissed, as recognizing them to belong to evil and lying spirits, which deceive mankind.”

Throughout the half hour that followed, a variety of songs issued from the tent, each of them sung by a different voice. Finally, once the last song died out, the medicine man called out from inside the tent that the Great Turtle was ready to answer any questions the Indians might have for him.

The band’s chief asked whether the English planned to attack them, and whether there were many English troops assembled at Fort Niagara, the site of the scheduled rendezvous. “These questions having been put by the priest,” Henry wrote, “the tent instantly shook; and for some seconds after it continued to rock so violently that I expected to see it levelled with the ground. All this was a prelude, as I supposed, to the answers to be given; but a terrific cry announced, with sufficient intelligibility, the departure of the Turtle.”

All of a sudden, the tent became quiet. The Ojibwa spectators waited with bated breath for the spirit’s reply. About fifteen minutes later, the tent shook again, and the tremulous voice of the Great Turtle began babbling in a language which none of the onlookers could understand. Once the spirit had delivered its incompressible report, the medicine man, who apparently understood every word, informed those assembled that the Great Turtle had flown across Lake Huron and over the easterly forest to Fort Niagara, where he found few Englishmen. He proceeded down the length of Lake Ontario and further down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, where he found a huge fleet of ships filled with British soldiers.

The chief then asked the Great Turtle whether Sir William Johnson would receive them as friends. “Sir William Johnson,” the medicine man replied, interpreting the words of the spirit, “will fill their canoes with presents; with blankets, kettles, guns, gunpowder and shot, and large barrels of rum such as the stoutest of the Indians will not be able to lift; and every man will return in safety to his family.” At this, the assemblage cheered, and many warriors declared their intention to attend the meeting at Fort Niagara.

The natives proceeded to ask the spirit questions about distant friends and the fate of sick family members. Henry himself, after presenting the Great Turtle with the customary gift of tobacco, asked whether he would ever see his native country again. The spirit replied that he would.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 10.

Continue Reading

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 8

The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 8

Continued from The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 7.

A Prisoner of the Ojibwa

The following day, the Ojibwa warriors loaded Henry and his fellow prisoners into canoes, handed them paddles, and commanded them to head for the southwesterly Beaver Island, the largest island in Lake Michigan. Each canoe contained seven Indians and four prisoners.

Due to heavy fog, the Ojibwa hugged the western shores of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and stopped at an Ottawa village. There, a hundred Ottawa warriors stole the prisoners for themselves, angry that that the Ojibwa had massacred the English without having consulted them first. The Ottawa loaded Henry and the prisoners into their own canoes and brought them back to Michilimackinac.

The following day, the Ottawa and the Ojibwa held a council to discuss the fate of the English prisoners. During this time, Henry learned that a great Ottawa chief named Pontiac had recently sparked an Indian rebellion against the occupying British throughout the so-called Pays d’en Haut, or “Upper Country”- the Great Lakes region. Insulted by the haughty demeanour of and the trading restrictions imposed by the English officers who had recently taken up residence in the old French forts throughout the region, a combined war party of Ottawa, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Huron Indians had launched an attack against the English-occupied Fort Detroit, situated on the river which connects Lake Erie with Lake Huron. Although the Indians had been unable to penetrate the fort itself, they succeeded in slaughtering or capturing every English man, woman, and child whom they found outside its walls. They proceeded to take Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, Miami, and Ouiatenon, all of them situated on the shores of the Great Lakes. Michilimackinac was the fifth British fort to fall in what would become known as Pontiac’s War.

The Ottawa returned the English prisoners to the Ojibwa in exchange for some of the spoils they acquired from their raid on Michilimackinac, telling them that the Ojibwa planned to eat them. Henry and his fellow captives were taken by canoe to a nearby Ojibwa village. On the way, their captors offered them slices of bread which they cut with knives still stained with the blood of the soldiers they had slaughtered. “The blood they moistened with spittle,” wrote Henry, “and rubbing it on the bread offered this for food to their prisoners, telling them to eat the blood of their countrymen.”

When they reached their destination, the prisoners were confined in a longhouse, each of them tied by their necks to a pole. Henry, hungry and shivering from the cold, spent a sleepless night pondering his fate.

The next day, the entire war party held a council which the prisoners were forced to attend. In the midst of this meeting, Henry’s self-appointed Ojibwa brother, Wawatam, entered the council lodge and made a speech in which he implored the head war chief- a warrior named Menehwehna- to release Henry into his custody. After Wawatam presented him with gifts, the chief acquiesced. Henry was released from his bonds and brought to Wawatam’s wigwam, where he enjoyed his first solid meal since the massacre.

Wawatam’s intervention likely saved Henry’s life. On the morning following his release, an Ojibwa chief who was absent at the time of the massacre arrived in camp and slaughtered seven of the English prisoners in order to show his support for his countrymen’s actions. The Indians dismembered the fattest of these prisoners, cooked his corpse in five kettles outside the lodge in which the prisoners were housed, and devoured him.

Shortly thereafter, the Ojibwa transported their prisoners to the Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, fearful of an English counterattack and believing that the island would be easier to defend than their village. Prior to their journey, they threw a live dog into Lake Michigan as a sacrifice to the spirit whom they believe controlled the weather on the Great Lakes.

“As we approached the island,” Henry wrote, “two women in the canoe in which I was began to utter melancholy and hideous cries. Precarious as my condition still remained I experienced some sensations of alarm from these dismal sounds, of which I could not then discover the occasion. Subsequently I learned that it is customary for the women on passing near the burial places of relations never to omit the practice of which I was now a witness, and by which they intend to denote their grief.”

Skull Cave

After spending several days on the island, the Ojibwa captured a couple of inbound English canoes laden with trade goods, among which were several casks of rum. Fearful that his friend might be murdered that night in the inevitable drunken carousal, Wawatam brought Henry to a small, dark cave on the island’s central heights and instructed him to wait therein until his return.

Henry made a bed of spruce boughs in the middle of the cave, wrapped himself in a blanket, and went to sleep. He was awakened the following morning by some protrusion beneath him, which had begun to press uncomfortably into his body. The offending object proved to be a bone, which Henry assumed must be that of a deer or some other animal which some bygone predator had dragged into the cave to eat. “But when daylight visited my chamber,” Henry wrote, “I discovered with some feelings of horror that I was lying on nothing less than a heap of human bones and skulls which covered all the floor!”

Wawatam returned to the cave two days later, having finally recovered from the night of revelry. Henry showed him the bones, of which Wawatam professed to have had no prior knowledge. The friends speculated that the cave must have been used as a sort of charnel house by Indians centuries ago.

Continued in The Adventures of Alexander Henry the Elder: Part 9.

Continue Reading